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Viral pneumonia is a type of infection in the lungs that leads to inflammation of the respiratory system and results in the appearance of some symptoms, such as fever, shortness of breath and cough, which get worse over time. This type of pneumonia occurs more often in people who have a weakened immune system, such as children and the elderly, especially.
The main viruses that cause this type of pneumonia are the viruses that cause colds and flu, such as Influenza type A, B or C, H1N1, H5N1 and the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in addition to others such as parainfluenza virus, respiratory syncytial virus and adenovirus, for example, which can be transported in droplets of saliva or respiratory secretion that are suspended in the air from one infected person to another.
Although viruses related to viral pneumonia are easily transmitted from one person to another, the person does not always develop pneumonia, in most cases they develop the symptoms of a cold or flu, as the immune system is able to fight this virus. However, even if the risk of developing pneumonia is not high, it is important to take precautionary measures, such as avoiding close contact with the sick person and having good hygiene habits, washing your hands regularly.
Symptoms of viral pneumonia
Viral pneumonia symptoms may appear a few days after contact with the virus, and worsen over time, with the main signs and symptoms being:
- Dry cough, which progresses to cough with transparent, white or pink phlegm;
- Chest pain and difficulty breathing;
- Fever up to 39ºC;
- Sore throat or earache;
- Rhinitis or conjunctivitis, which may accompany symptoms.
In older people, symptoms of pneumonia can also include mental confusion, extreme tiredness, and lack of appetite, even if there is no fever. In babies or children, it is also very common to experience very rapid breathing that causes the exaggerated opening of the wings of the nose.
Viral pneumonia is distinguished from bacterial pneumonia in that it usually has a more sudden onset, produces a more transparent or white phlegm, in addition to having other signs of viral infection, such as nasal congestion, sinusitis, eye irritation and sneezing, for example, however, it can be difficult to differentiate the 2 types of infection without doing tests. However, it is important for the doctor to carry out tests to identify the causative agent of pneumonia and, thus, the treatment of pneumonia to be as effective as possible.
How to know if the baby has pneumonia
In the case of babies, parents may suspect pneumonia when the flu symptoms presented by the baby take time to pass or worsen throughout the week, such as fever that does not go down, constant cough, lack of appetite, rapid breathing and difficulty breathing, for example.
It is important that the baby is taken to the pediatrician so that exams are carried out and the diagnosis is concluded, initiating the appropriate treatment. In addition, it is important to have some care during the baby's treatment, such as:
- Make inhalations with saline solution 2 to 3 times a day or according to the pediatrician's indications;
- Encouraging the baby to breastfeed or eat, giving preference to fruit, breast milk or formula;
- Give baby water;
- Dress the baby according to the temperature, avoiding sudden changes in temperature;
- Avoid using cough medicines that have not been prescribed by the pediatrician, as they can facilitate the accumulation of secretions in the lung.
In the most serious cases, in which the baby does not want to eat, is short of breath or has a fever above 39ºC, the pediatrician may recommend hospitalization to receive oxygen, give medication in the vein and receive serum while unable to feed.
How to confirm the diagnosis
To confirm the diagnosis of this disease, the doctor may request samples of respiratory secretions from the nose and throat, for analysis in the laboratory, which should be collected, ideally, until the 3rd day of the disease, but that can be collected until the 7th day after the onset of symptoms, to identify the virus.
In addition, tests such as chest X-ray are performed to assess lung involvement, and blood tests, such as blood count and arterial blood gas analysis, to assess blood oxygenation, and thus verify the degree and infection severity.In any case of suspected pneumonia, it is advisable to go through a consultation with the general practitioner or pediatrician or pulmonologist, or go to the emergency room, to start the appropriate treatment and prevent the disease from worsening.
How the treatment is done
Treatment for viral infections is guided by the doctor, and should be done with some guidelines such as:
- Rest at home, avoiding going to school or work;
- Good hydration, with water, tea, coconut water or natural juice;
- Light diet, avoiding fatty foods.
Furthermore, treating viral pneumonia or influenza caused by the H1N1, H5N1, or novel coronavirus (COVID-19) viruses, in people who are at higher risk of developing pneumonia, such as the elderly and children, also involves use of antiviral drugs, prescribed by the general practitioner or pulmonologist, such as Oseltamivir, Zanamivir and Ribavirina, for example.
Treatment can be done at home, however when the person shows signs of severity, such as difficulty breathing, low blood oxygenation, mental confusion or changes in kidney function, for example, hospitalization may be necessary. for medication in the vein and use of an oxygen mask. Learn more about how viral pneumonia should be treated.
How to prevent
To prevent viral infections of any kind, it is very important to keep your hands clean, washing or using alcohol gel, whenever you go to public places, with the bus, shopping malls and markets, in addition to avoiding sharing personal items, such as cutlery and glasses.
The flu vaccine, administered annually, is also an important way to prevent infection by the main types of viruses.